CANTON, Ga. – A federal workplace safety investigation into a Jan. 19, 2022, ammonia leak that hospitalized two workers and led to the evacuation of about 50 workers at a Canton poultry processing plant found their employer might have prevented the incident by ensuring required safety standards were followed.
Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the uncontrolled temperature and pressure conditions on an ammonia refrigeration system contributed to the release of ammonia. Liquid and vapor ammonia were dispersed in the air and engulfed the emergency exit doors that discharged outside. In addition to the hospitalized workers, one worker was treated on the scene.
OSHA issued nine serious citations for inadequately implementing and maintaining the process safety management program for controlling anhydrous ammonia hazards in industrial refrigeration systems. Specifically, the employer failed to:
- Confirm a pre-startup safety review before introducing a highly hazardous chemical into an existing process, and include instructions to address process deviations.
- Train workers on the physical and health hazards of anhydrous ammonia.
- Ensure exit signs were properly illuminated and clearly identified.
- Maintain safe walking and working surfaces.
OSHA has proposed $110,630 in penalties.
“The failures identified in this case are inexcusable,” said OSHA Area Office Director Joshua Turner in Atlanta-East. “This incident should serve as a reminder to employers of their legal obligation to maintain a complete and up-to-date process safety management program, and ensure workers are trained on the dangers of hazardous chemicals and the importance of following safety precautions.”
Exposure to harmful substances in the workplace increased from 379 workers affected in 2019 to 448 workers affected in 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. in one of the world’s largest poultry and pork producers with approximately 58,000 workers at locations in 14 U.S. states, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Europe.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.